Ever dreamed of trading city life for the country? This secret road trip wants to give you a taste

Inspired by the 14th Factory and Meow Wolf, Sunday Drive: Reunion is a massive art show on a private farm. Hit the road August 9 and 10.

Sunday Drive: Reunion is a massive art show on a private farm. Hit the road August 9 and 10

Dean Baldwin's River Restaurant featured at the 2015 edition of Sunday Drive. What's in store for this summer's event is still a surprise. (Photo: Dustin Rabin/Courtesy of Sunday Drive Art Projects)

Summer hits, and city dwellers escape to...well, anywhere that isn't the city. And if you're living in Toronto, turning a weekend road trip into a permanent vacation might seem specially tempting. 

Maybe you read way too many "FIRE" blogs; maybe your building's spraying for ants. But for many, getting the hell out of downtown is starting to feel like a matter of survival. Toronto renters now pay more than anyone else in the country, and the average going rate for a one-bedroom apartment rose another 10 per cent this month. Even a year ago, when this Angus Reid poll came out, more than half of the city's tenants were already "seriously considering" packing it up for cheaper, less-cramped pastures.

But a move like that takes sacrifice. Is there a way to have it all — the culture, the excitement, the job opportunities of the city without the never-ending fear of reno-viction?

Sunday Drive won't give you the answer, but when the art festival was founded in 2014, its organizers were tapping into that particular dream. In its past two editions, the event essentially dropped a contemporary art fair into the village of Warkworth, Ont. Busloads of downtown visitors arrived to eat dinner en pleine mer (Dean Baldwin's The River Restaurant) or watch a "rogue girl's basketball team" train in a barn (Hazel Meyer's Muscle Panic).

After a four-year break, it's ready to return in a different form. 

Wide open spaces at Sunday Drive: Reunion's secret location. (Instagram/@sundaydriveart)

This year's festival, "Sunday Drive: Reunion," launches August 9 and 10, and instead of invading a small town, it'll turn a private farm into 50 acres of exhibition space. The location is secret, though you'll find it roughly 150 km northeast of downtown Toronto. And unlike the previous shows, this Sunday Drive has a strict itinerary.

All visitors will meet at muster point in Lakefield, Ont. (Watch the Sunday Drive website for further instruction.) There, they'll board a bus where tour guides Julie Hall and Jacob Irish — the artists who happen to run said farm — will share the story of how they achieved the impossible dream. 

What comes next?

The organizers won't say — because spoilers. But according to Tania Thompson, Sunday Drive's creative director and the event's de facto curator, the property will host a variety of original site-specific installations — involving sculpture, film, performance, etc. — that all play to the great wide openness of the spot. There's a narrative that threads the work together, she explains, and it's a story inspired by Hall and Irish's personal urban exodus.

Hazel Meyer's Muscle Panic at the 2014 Sunday Drive. (Photo: Geoff Watson/Courtesy of Sunday Drive Art Projects)

"This is part of the Sunday Drive fantasy," says Thompson. "Oh, if you could just crack the code and be part of the art scene of the city, but also have this beautiful space in the country."

And space is a subject Thompson considers a lot in her professional life. Beyond Sunday Drive, she works as a consultant for Akin Collective, a not-for-profit in Toronto that offers affordable studios to local artists. They currently run eight locations in a city where many workspaces are disappearing — whether because of disaster (i.e. Walnut Studios) or real estate development (i.e. The Coffin Factory). Akin plans to open a new facility outside of the city, Thompson says. They've found a former Parks Canada maintenance yard on the Trent Severn Waterway which they hope to transform into studios and a gallery. That's how she recently landed in Lakefield — which led her to Hall and Irish.

"It was just through happenstance," she says. "We met this couple who lives on a farm very close to Lakefield. They were artists and they had moved to the country so they could get space they could afford. They could build a workshop; they could be artists out there. They seemed so aligned with us."

This is part of the Sunday Drive fantasy. Oh, if you could crack the code and be part of the art scene of the city, but also have this beautiful space in the country.- Tania Thompson, Sunday Drive creative director

At that point, the festival was already evolving into a different format than previous years. "We were really interested in responding to what we see are the currents in contemporary art and are what audiences want. And things are really moving toward experiential art presentations." Projects like the 14th Factory and Meow Wolf were points of inspiration, she says.

"We were in search of a story. We knew we wanted to do a narrative show," says Thompson.

"It was like, 'Oh!' This could be the kernel of the show. This could be where we start the narrative, just with the story of these two."

Original work by both Hall and Irish will appear at Sunday Drive. Other announced artists include composer Joseph Murray (one half of Menalon), Sam Shahsavani, Reza Nik and Max Streicher — whose inflatable Kafka-inspired "Dung Beetle" filled a barn at the 2015 Sunday Drive.

Night-time view of The River Restaurant by Dean Baldwin. From the 2015 edition of Sunday Drive. (Photo: Dustin Rabin/Courtesy of Sunday Drive Art Projects)

Thompson encourages Toronto visitors to embrace the summer camp vibe of the event and buy a $20 ticket for the Sunday Drive bus. Leaving from downtown at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10, it's the official ride to the show, but capacity is limited. If they sell out, Thompson says additional weekends will be added throughout the month of August.

"For me personally, I'm very drawn to culture and I love density — and these are the things about the city that I love so much. But there are so many elements of the city I wish I could leave behind and I would just go and live in the country. So when you hear about people who seem to have managed to keep both, who haven't had to make a decision and give up culture in order to have space and relaxation, you're like, 'Wow. That's all I want.'"

"This is why I think Sunday Drive fulfills a bit of a fantasy for me," says Thompson. "It's a way of bringing culture with me, and proving to myself that it's possible — meeting people like Jacob and Julie, finding other artists who are down to do this show and travel up there over the course of the summer."

"I'm not the only one who feels this way. We really all just want to do it."

Sean Martindale's "Hashtag Nature" at Sunday Drive 2015. (Photo: Dustin Rabin/Courtesy of Sunday Drive Art Projects)

Sunday Drive: Reunion. Tania Thompson, Max Streicher, Jacob Irish and Julie Hall, Sam Shahsavani, Garrett Gibart, Reza Nik, Karl Skene, Sasha Leigh Henry, Pavel Ioudine, Amina Moon, Joseph Murray. Aug. 9 and 10. (Further weekends in August may open based on audience demand.)


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.